GOP splits over youth access to `cultural violence'

Defections result in House rejecting proposed curbs on entertainment industry

June 17, 1999|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Getting off to an inauspicious start, House Republicans lost a bid yesterday to deny youths access to explicit sexual and violent materials as 40 percent of the GOP members rejected a key plank of the party's assault on juvenile crime.

New curbs on the entertainment and publishing industries were to be part of a larger package that includes stiffer penalties for juveniles who commit serious crimes and $1.5 billion in grant money to help states pay for juvenile crime prevention programs.

The attack on what he calls "cultural violence" led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde was also intended in part to take the spotlight off the debate beginning today on new gun control legislation.

With 92 Republicans joining the nearly unanimous Democrats, the House rejected the proposal, 282-146.

"It's my responsibility as a parent to make sure my children aren't watching age-inappropriate materials," said Rep. James E. Rogan, of California, one of many Republicans on Hyde's own committee who opposed him. "The responsibility rests at no time with the government, someone in Hollywood or any other group to make up for my deficiency."

Hyde argued that extremely violent video games and music, as well as sexually explicit materials, play a significant role in contributing to the mind-set that leads teen-agers to commit such horrendous acts as the recent high school shooting in Colorado.

"Parents need our help" in restricting youthful access to such material, Hyde said, complaining about the vigorous lobbying of the entertainment industry.

"Let's stand with them. Nothing we do is more important in this life than how we care for children."

House GOP leaders are trying to craft a broader response to the school shootings than the gun control measures that became the focus of a Senate-passed bill. Aided by Democratic gun rights supporters, a majority of Republicans is expected to vote today or tomorrow to weaken or kill the Senate measures.

In the face of those predictions, President Clinton lobbied long-distance for the strongest of several competing provisions requiring background checks for purchasers of firearms at gun shows.

"I urge you to stand up to the gun lobby once again," Clinton wrote to wavering lawmakers in a letter from Switzerland, where he addressed the International Labor Organization.

Back in Washington, Hyde ran into a broad range of bipartisan objections. Legislators were concerned about infringing on the right of free speech, granting powerful new regulatory controls to the federal government or simply putting too great a burden on vendors who could be punished with five years in prison for allowing young people to obtain the prohibited material.

Hyde's measure would have banned the sale, loan or exhibition to a minor of any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, video game, movie, image, book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter or sound recording or other matter of any kind containing explicit sexual or violent material.

Maryland Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, of the Eastern Shore, was one of the few Republicans who stood up to back Hyde.

"This is not an assault on the First Amendment or freedom of speech," Gilchrest contended. "The federal government helps parents protect children from dirty air, the federal government helps parents protect children from dirty water. It's only incumbent on us to help parents protect their children from vulgarity and violence."

But other lawmakers contended the proposal was drawn so vaguely that it could apply to such movies as "Home Alone," "Ben Hur" or "Saving Private Ryan." News clips of the mass graves and other atrocities being discovered as NATO troops move into Kosovo might also be considered too violent for minors, lawmakers said.

Maryland Republicans Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County were among the GOP defectors, voting along with all four Maryland Democrats against the proposal. Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland joined Gilchrest in supporting the proposal.

In a more successful venture yesterday, the House voted 249-181 to adopt a stiff increase in federal penalties for crimes committed by juveniles, including mandatory minimum sentences and allowing youths as young as 13 to be charged with serious offenses and punished as adults.

The sentencing provisions would leave it up to prosecutors rather than judges to decide which youthful offenders would be tried in adult courts.

Opponents argued that juveniles who commit violent crimes, such as murder or assault, are generally tried under state laws. They said most of the young people affected by the new sentences would be Native Americans on reservations.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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